by Patrick Sandeman

Celebrations begin on Christmas Eve, once our shops are closed and all deliveries completed. A restorative ‘copita’ of Valdespino’s Inocente Fino as we lay the fire and prepare dinner is a precursor to a glass or two of champagne, most likely Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition, with a few slices of ‘pata negra’ ham, such a treat! Rare roast fillet of venison (from Richmond Park of all places) is sweet and midly gamey and accompanies, as ever, a bottle or two of Tassinaia one of Tuscany’s best value Bordeaux style wines. This year we will be in the remote family cottage, up the estuary from Salcombe in Devon, and now that the family is all grown up there is a high risk that we will all adjourn to the local pub to sing carols late into the night. A final nightcap of Lea & Sandeman’s very fine Fins Bois Moyet Cognac will round off the evening nicely.

Christmas morning starts with our traditional breakfast of salmon fishcakes, washed down with a glass of Larmandier-Bernier’s stunning ‘Terre de Vertus’;  totally dry ‘non-dosage’, biodynamic and so very clean it is almost healthy! The turkey is introduced to a long stay in the bottom of the aga (along with the best part of a bottle of sherry in the pan) while we don our boots and coats and set off on foot for the small church of St Nicholas and St Cyriac at South Pool. The Christmas service puts us in mind of all that is yet to come, and especially the Millbrook on the walk home where we will briefly stop to soak up some Christmas cheer and a pint of cider.

Christmas lunch is a brief affair of smoked salmon, blue Wensleydale and salad, accompanied by a bottle of Bert Salomon’s bracing Gruner Veltliner ‘Von Stein’ Reserve, and possibly a glass of the succulent 2009 Fleurie, Clos de la Roilette. Our appetites are kept in check for the serious business of Christmas dinner. An afternoon wandering down the estuary in the fading, watery afternoon light is followed by making up the fires in the cottage and final prepartions for dinner; and it is only when the table is ready and the kitchen calm do we turn our attention to presents and yet more champagne.

Presents are despatched from under the decorated holly tree as we enjoy a glass of  R&L Legras 2002 Presidence Vieilles Vignes an exceptionally fine chardonnay based champagne, without too much fizz, not unlike drinking a very good white burgundy.

The smell from the kitchen has our appetites whetted and the golden turkey is resplendent. Chipolatas, roasted potatoes, chestnut stuffing, brussel sprouts (yes, we all love them) bread sauce and gravy create a cacophony of flavours and a dilemma for most red wines. Some might drink white, such as the rich white burgundy that is Vire Clesse from Jean Thevenet’s Domain de la Bongran but if it is going to be red, then Pinot Noir is our choice of the day and we will compare and contrast both the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ in the form of Thierry Mortet’s full bodied Gevrey-Chambertin and Nick Mill’s glorious Central Otago Pinot Noir. Throughout the festivities there will be a decanter of vintage port on hand, Warre’s 1985 being particularly good right now, but after such a feast the altogether lighter and more refreshing Sandeman Twenty Year old tawny port (slightly chilled) will round off the evening with walnuts and sugared orange peel.

Boxing Day morning and together with the faint liverish feeling of excess the mother-in-law arrives, calling for rather stronger medicine all round! Bloody Mary, the pub, and back for a ‘make-do’ lunch of cold turkey and baked potatoes oozing with melted stilton and an uplifting bottle of Le Piane’s ‘La Maggiorina’, a bright and juicy blend of Nebbiolo and Croatina from one of Piedmonte’s tiniest vineyard regions, Boca. The rest of the holiday will see a variety of wines appear on the table from around the globe and the noticeable lack of Bordeaux so far will be redressed over the New Year. But then that is a whole new subject in itself.